In the movie Boyhood, Ethan Hawke rattles off a rant that declares, “There is no favourite Beatle! That’s what I’m saying, it’s in the balance, and that’s what made them the greatest f—king rock band in the world.” That perfect balance was, in itself, a balancing act. The meddling mix of unique egos and talents that made them great was the same thing that caused friction. Sometimes it would end up in a masterpiece; sometimes, it would end up in a tiff, c’est la vie.
While ultimately the delicately woven tapestry of the band eventually tore, on personal levels time was able to stitch the piece back together again. As Paul McCartney once said, “Whatever bad things John said about me, he would also slip his glasses down to the end of his nose and say: ‘I love you’.”
Time has not only passed its healing hand over the relationships that existed within the band, but it has also allowed for the surviving members to take a retrospective look back at what they achieved together. “I have such an admiration for John like most people,” McCartney once said, “But to be the guy who wrote with him, well that’s enough. Right there, you could retire and go, ‘Jesus, I had a fantastic life. Take me, Lord’.” But even within that gilded experience of working with a friend who just so happened also to be a great, a few moments stand out to Macca when looking back.
During McCartney’s appearance on the Adam Buxton Podcast, friends of the show submitted questions for the beloved musician. One of which came from Buxton’s old school chum, the legendary documentarian Louis Theroux. Rather than his usual tact of probing Nazis and exploring brothels, Theroux was merely interested in what McCartney’s favourite Lennon-penned tracks from The Beatles period were.
“From The Beatles era?” the then-78-year-old mused, “There’s a few. They always ask you what’s your favourite song, but there’s a few.” Then giving himself a moment’s thought he declared, “’Strawberry Fields Forever’, I loooooved. ‘Across the Universe’, I loooooved,” extending the notes in his trademark style.
Later adding that he loved the song ‘Julia’ which Lennon wrote for his mother who died in 1958 when she was struck and killed by a car. “Julia…is about the mum he couldn’t live with. So I loved the poignancy of that because I’d been with him round to Julia’s house to visit her. And I knew how deeply he loved her. So Julia I would go with.”
For the poignant dedication to his mother, he turned to the psychedelic folk singer Donovan for assistance rather than Paul owing to Donovan’s finger plucking style, as Donovan once said, “He [Lennon] was trying to write a song about a childhood he never had, and that was very touching to me. He said, ‘You are the guy who writes the children’s songs. Can you try and help me with this one?’ So I may have added a line there.”
Whether intentionally or otherwise, the three songs selected by McCartney under the pressure of an interview delineate just what Lennon brought to The Beatles. The poignancy of ‘Julia’, the deep introspection of ‘Across the Universe’ and the rollicking kaleidoscope of ‘Strawberry Fields Forever’ shows the diverse mix that he brushed on the canvas of the Fab Four. As Ethan Hawke goes on to say, “Paul takes you to the party, George talks to you about God, John says ‘Nah it’s about love and pain, then Ringo who just says ‘hey, can’t we just enjoy what we have when we have it?’”
Paul McCartney’s favourite John Lennon songs:
- ‘Strawberry Fields Forever’
- ‘Across the Universe’